Click here to view a web album with 20 high-resolution photos from this day.
After an hour delay departing Miami, we safely arrived in Havana. We immediately noticed the warm, moist tropical climate, complete with a brief but torrential downpour. We required about 1.5 hours to work our way through immigration, customs, the health check (Cookie in Miami: “Answer no to every question!”), and to find out bags (some of which were soaked through). We found our tour operator and boarded our bus, our base camp for the next eight days:
We met our driver Eduardo and our licensed (and government-sponsored) tour guide Ludwig, who tirelessly and cheerfully answered all our questions:
After about 20 minutes, we arrived at our hotel, The Cubana Paseo, located in a relatively unsbusy Havana neighborhood:
The students were impressed with the hotel. A former mansion, it has been converted into a three-story hotel with comfortable rooms, each with two beds, some with nice views. We all appreciated the old world charm by rocking on the front porch:
After an hour to freshen up, we drove to a restaurant to enjoy a typical Cuban dinner of rice, black beans, fried plantains, chicken, vegetables, and ice cream:
The family-style service led everyone to dig in heartily, and to eating quickly and with great gusto. We were all overstuffed in short order. Over ice cream for dessert, everyone gave their first impressions of Cuba. They included:
• The plentiful old American cars that you see all around Havana (a cliché about Cuba, but quite true)
• The socialist slogans that cover many area walls (“Socialismo o muerte!”)
• The combination of poverty (as seen on the streets as we drive around the city) and comfort (as in our hotel, which many students found nicer than we were expecting)
• The exotic sights (culture shock) and sounds of being in a foreign country
• A feeling of going back in time
We made our way back to the hotel by 9PM or so. Everyone was pretty beat, so we agreed to stay in tonight and gather tomorrow morning for our tour of old and new Havana.
We do have a class cell phone, and we have successfully completed both outgoing and incoming calls. In case of emergency, you can reach us at: 011-535-283-7732. But please, save this for emergencies. We are going to try to have each student call home briefly today to assure their loved ones that all is well. Internet access is much worse than I thought it would be. There is none in our hotel, and the nearest access is a dial-up connection that is about a 30 minute walk away. So I expect to update the blog only sporadically (I hesitate to spend my precious time in Havana in a hotel lobby waiting for photos to upload!).
All is well. Everyone is excited and happy and we are looking forward to our day and our trip.